I've said before that in having Kain we seem to have crossed a threshold of some kind into "larger than average family"...which would be kinda funny if you could see some of the families we hang out with. In homeschooling circles, a family of five is maybe mid-sized at best. Anyway, a few weeks ago when I took Maria for the learning disability evaluation the psychologist was impressed, or maybe disgusted, with shrinks it's so hard to tell, with the age range of the kids and that I intended to homeschool all three next year. She recommended putting Jack in preschool because I surely wasn't going to be able to meet the needs of three children that are, admittedly, in completely different stages of development. I wish I could say I came up with a cutting reply, like "I wonder if the average preschool teacher can really meet the needs of 20 3-year olds in her care, some of them for 12 hours a day," or, "Golly, whatever did women do before daycare existed, it's a wonder the human race survived to this point at all." But I did not. As often happens when unexpectedly put on the spot, I stammered some vague defense and hoped she'd change the subject. I wasn't, after all, prepared to defend having *Jack* at home. I was prepared to field questions about homeschooling Maria and meeting *her* needs, but not Jack. In the end, she leaned towards me and said, in a voice one would use when speaking to a not too terribly bright child, "You know, how can you do it *all*?"
Ah, there it is. Doing it *all*. Don't we all want to do it all? Did I do it all when I was a working mom? Absolutely not. Do I do it all now? Nope. But it's a question I get often about homeschooling, "How do you do it all?" This question means different things from different people. From the shrink it meant meeting the educational and psychological needs of these three children all day long. From another mother, it usually means getting a passing amount of school work done while staying on top of housework, laundry, and cooking. When you read homeschooling blogs and see pictures and descriptions of moms grinding their own organic wheat to make homemade bread everyday, their children outside working on wonderful unit studies (authored by mom), cloth diapers (hand-sewn, of course) hanging on the line, and there becomes this pressure to "do it all" in a whole new way. So I will say, here and now, we don't do it all. Neither does anyone else, even those moms in those blog pictures. I've met many homeschooling families in the last several years, and while they often accomplish amazing things, they don't do it all. So, here's a unapologetic list, in no particular order, of things we *don't* do.
---I don't hang laundry outside. I know it's better for the environment. But I don't like lugging laundry back and forth to the clothesline, and I don't like crunchy clothes. Neither does my husband.
---I don't cook everything from scratch. I do cook many things from scratch, but there are certain convenience foods we have decided are worth using, including certain cold cereals and certain foods for the kids to have for morning snack.
---I don't buy organic. I think this is a worthwhile thing to do, certainly, but we simply cannot afford it. Our grocery bill is our biggest expense as it is, and the things I would be most motivated to buy organic (dairy and meat) are the most expensive to buy. Plus, the closest natural foods store is 45 minutes from here and I have serious doubts about just how "organic" many of the organic brands at Walmart really are. I do shop at local farmer's markets for some organic produce and we have a small organic garden of our own.
---I don't put together my own curriculum. I nearly drove myself insane the first two years we homeschooled trying to do just that. I am attracted to new and shiny curriculum like some kind of homeschooling crow, and the tendency to buy more and more cool stuff to squeeze into my lesson plans is too strong. I picked a curriculum two year ago that is most in line with our educational goals and I stick with it.
--I don't try to keep right on our lesson plans. We try to start on time, and we generally try to work for a certain amount of time and stop where we are. This is a home, not a classroom, and life happens while we school. Sometimes I have a cranky toddler, or a repair man needs to be called, or a child that's taking longer than anticipated on a particular assignment. Sometimes it's just a nice day and we decide to knock off early and go to the park. If we haven't finished everything on the list for that day, it gets shoved over to the next day. This often means we are on week 8 for history, week 11 for grammar, and week 4 for art. That's ok. We catch up on the "behind" subjects at the end of each term.
---I don't prepare time-consuming meals. I enjoy cooking when I can do it without a 2 year old wrapped around my legs, but we usually eat three meals a day here at home, at least two largely made from scratch, and that's a lot of time in the kitchen with even simple recipes. When I'm looking for recipes, I'm looking for ones that have "real food" ingredients and have reasonable preparation times...generally 15 minutes for lunches and 30 minutes for dinner. I often bake something to have for tea time, although often those things are made by my 10yo, or may come out of the breadmaker. I also don't cook breakfast. I put out cereal, oatmeal, and fruit most mornings.
---I don't bathe my kids every day. Maria is of an age, hormonally speaking, that she has started showering every day. The boys alternate evening baths. When it's not their bath night, they will get a quick scrub of their face/hands and lower arms/lower legs if dirty from outside play.
---I don't sew their clothing. I have made a couple of dresses/skirts for myself and for Maria. I do enjoy sewing, though I'm not very good at it. I just can't find much time for it right now. In the past it has been worthwhile to sew for Maria because it has been difficult to find the kind of modest dresses and skirts I wanted for her without shopping at expensive stores, but in general, sewing clothing, especially for kids, doesn't seem to save me much money. Cheap fabric falls apart quickly, and good fabric can be expensive. Mostly, we shop at thrift stores and fill in the gaps at discount stores.
---I don't keep the house spotless. We work on tidying up a couple of times a day, I work on cleaning it once a week, but it is often cluttered and messy. Frankly, many weeks it's all I can do to stay on top of laundry and dishes. This isn't a house that stands empty while everyone is at school and work all day. We are all here most of the day, and we use our house hard. I am endlessly in the kitchen preparing or cleaning up meals, the kids are dragging out toys, craft materials, and books all day, the bathrooms are used by everyone all day long. We live in a smallish house and frankly, all the rooms are used all day long. When I am cleaning up, some small person is right behind me making a mess. So if you come over to visit, watch your step!
---I don't spend much time in personal prayer. We have prayer times together as a family, but I don't take much time to pray on my own. I offer up my day as a prayer for different intentions, and I am trying to train myself to take a few minutes at different times of the day to say quick prayers, i.e., the Angelus at 6 and 12, the chaplet of divine mercy at 3, but I often forget. I have recently acquired my grandmother's Liturgy of the Hours book and have ordered a guide for it, and I plan to start saying those prayers after the kids are in bed. I am often reading a chapter of the Bible or one faith-related book or another at bedtime. And I often throw up random ejaculatory-type prayers during the day, like "Dear Lord, please keep me from hurting this child." But other than those things, there is no "sit down and pray" time scheduled in my day. I hope there will be more time for that someday, but in the meantime....motherhood is an active vocation, not a contemplative one, and I pray by living my vocation the best I can.
---I don't spend a lot of time providing entertainment for the kids. I do school with them. We read together every day. We will often do crafts together. I take them to homeschool group activities. I provide them with good toys, and space to play. Sometimes, especially when it's too nasty to play outside, we will play board games, do puzzles together, etc., but I don't sit down on the floor and play with my kids on a daily basis, and I expect them to play with each other and to learn to entertain themselves for periods of time.
So there it is...all the things I don't do. I feel all cleansed, like I've just left the confessional! This list is not tied to any kind of value judgement...I'm not saying, in other words, that the things on this list aren't worth doing. Some of these things I wish I did do. I probably even *should* be doing some of them. But there are only so many hours in a day, and in the end we all have to choose *not* to do certain things to make time for what is most important to our families.